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Museum of Fine Arts
Springfield Massachusette
New England Engraved: The Prints of Asa Cheffetz, 1984
By Sinclair Hitchings

Excerpts from the essay

A print  lover discovering Asa Cheffetz through his prints encounters a perfectionist. The engraving is infinitely painstaking. The difficult printing achieves rich blacks while keeping the ink from filling tiny marks of the burin on the surface of the block. Here is an artist offering strong designs but, even more, giving us a sense of the craftsman in harmony with his tools (a few burins) and his chosen materials of end-grain Turkish boxwood, stiff ink, and receptive paper.

As a virtuoso in the art and craft of wood engraving, he delights in snow scenes and gives a sense of a New England snowfall in his special medium, as few others could. He lingers over summer landscapes which portray a stream or a lake because he can employ his dazzling technique to suggest the surface of the water. He displays his virtuosity, too, in several wood engravings of glass goblets. The transparency and, at the same time, the reflecting properties of the glass, give him special opportunities. The temptation to strut his stuff, in fact, is irresistible. Elsewhere, he shows his skill as a miniaturist. If we ask, “How small can you go?”, numbers of his prints, including his calendar series with one tiny wood engraving for each New England month, give the answer.

The subjects of the prints tell us much about him. As poets from age to age have given us their catalogues of beloved objects, so Cheffetz expresses his love of old wooden houses, which he portrays in the sympathetic medium of the woodblock, engraving to give the very felling of old shingles, warped and weather stained. He returns again and again to the hills and little valleys and peaceful back roads of Vermont.

In his style, Cheffetz reached maturity only two or three years after he began the serious practice of wood engraving. The Thirties were his decade, bringing him many opportunities, the challenge of diverse subjects, and steady income, small but for the moment sufficient. By the Forties, while World War II did not halt his career, his opportunities dwindled. His later prints beginning at this time, are repetitive in theme and technique, though they continue to display his exceptional skills.

Cheffetz was an artist with something to say but even more, he was a stylist. Even in his correspondence he would first draft letters in a rough and undistinguished hand before writing his final draft in his own unforgettable individual calligraphy. For him, not only the words matter, but equally, their presentation.